SHORT STORY 11
U N H O L Y- W A T E R
SHORT STORY 11
This was written as my logbook while at sea off the coast of Belgium at the end of January 2017.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 1
As the RV Onbekend pulled out of the harbor and headed into that all-encompassing gray, I glanced back at the equally dismal city of Ostend, and knew that these early mornings were going to be far worse than the rough seas. With crossed arms and a surly scowl, I turned head-on with the wind and walked below the bridge toward the bow of that big ship. I wasn't sure if I was meant to see England on the horizon, but all I found was a blur of storm clouds and endless swells. Scanning back over the dead straight coastline, I reminded myself that during this entire voyage we'd never be any great distance from land. However, like an astronaut in his tiny oasis-bubble of homeostasis, I had contradictory sensations of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Regardless of my pathetic swimming abilities, it was obvious that I wouldn't last ten seconds down there in that churning sea while wrapped up in all my layers of winter and wet-weather gear. But the research vessel was a tough looking cunt. Its wide hull and chunky silhouette plowed through the incoming waves like a champion – until we struck our first giant swell and the foam crashed over my head like bitch-slap from hell! Fuck yes! I loved the smell of salt air and the rise and fall of the ship. As the water trickled down my collar and soaked into my chest, I remembered the commute to and from my home island as a teenager, and specifically when two good friends and I had spent the day in the outskirts of the city where we had been rained upon nonstop. Being loud-mouth lads with egos eager to prove who had the bigger balls, we had all merely laughed at our sodden predicament. That evening, when we caught the ferry home, I was still high from hysterics and roared with laughter at the high seas. My two pals however, were less than amused as they gripped their armrests and looked pissed off at my smug tempting of fate. I was surrounded by death, but so fucking what! I knew that I should have had a healthy fear for open waters, but I mostly had an idiot's faith in the structural integrity of both my childhood ferry and this research vessel. Was it worse to enjoy the ride like a fucking asshole, or cling to the constant paranoia of an untrustworthy ship? Fuck it, I'll be fine. What could possibly go wrong.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 2
After toweling myself off, I stumbled through the narrow corridors toward one of the on-board labs. Professor Samuel was at his computer, and another old guy was busy plugging a huge cluster of cables into an overhead conduit. There were at least two dozen computer screens around the various science stations, but Samuel immediately slammed his laptop shut once I approached. "What are you doing here?"
"Rough out there," I grinned, rubbing my cold nose. "So, is there a place around here for me?"
"Okay, then. Where?"
"I don't know."
"Who should I ask then?"
"Really. You have no idea."
"I'm not in charge around here."
And then the other guy dumped his cables and exited out another door.
"Listen, this was Chloe's idea, not mine! You better know when to keep your mouth shut around the others!"
"The fuck could I tell them? I don't know shit about this fucking expedition."
"Exactly. There's no room for tourists. You've taken Chloe's place, for some godforsaken reason I'll never understand, but if the captain learns that you're not writing a PhD or collecting statistics, he'll have a chopper pick you up at your own expense! In fact, don't ever speak to the captain about anything. He's as impatient as he is perceptive. Stay away from him!"
"Sure. Anything else I should know before I–"
"Don't mention anything, not a thing about what we are scanning for. Keep your mouth glued shut!"
"Everyone speaks French, so that's not going to be a problem–"
"Most important, and this should go without saying, just imagine you're on a flight, even joking about bombs will get you in serious trouble. The same applies here with your swimming dysfunction."
"Dysfunction? Jesus, that's a hell of a way to put it."
"How many grown adults do you know who can't swim?!"
"So, what exactly am I doing here, then?"
The old, bearded professor scoffed and turned back to his laptop, "Ask Chloe what the hell she was thinking."
Clenching my lips and jaw, I stood there for an extended period, wondering what the fuck I was going to entertain myself with for the next eight days.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 3
SOMETHING TO DO
My exploration of the ship soon led me to the bridge, and taking note of Samuel's warning, I gave not a single fuck. It was a large space about thirty-meters above the water, with four men about the computers consoles. None of the crew seemed concerned by my presence, so I glanced about, trying to discern who was in charge. They were all short guys in thick clothes with shabby beards, but I couldn't picture anyone of them as head of the pack. Scanning the whole vessel from bow to stern, I estimated that it was about eighty-meters-long, with the bridge roughly in the middle. I know ships are meant to have a female pronoun, but I couldn't even pronounce the name out loud, so like all dogs, I'll refer to the ship as 'it'.
Ignoring the cold-shoulder of the crew, I continued back downstairs. Eventually, I found the passageways filling with more and more pipes and plumbing. I'd say that the RV Onbekend was built in the 70's. Some of the walls looked as if they had been repainted a hundred times, you could see the various layers that had flaked off beneath the recent coats. Everything at sea rusted, including people. My father had bought a small yacht when I was a teen. I have no idea how he afforded it. My mother was always in charge of the finances, but I think she had calculated that his sanity needed it. For the longest time his yacht sat on a trailer surrounded by other old boats near the causeway. I hated helping him clean and paint the thing. Boys do resist their fathers. Finally, though, he acquired a mooring in a small cove on the south side of the island. I've been thinking about it for a while now, but I swear to fuck, I can't remember the name of the bay, nor the name that my father gave the boat. The little yacht seemed to make a lot more sense once it was actually in the water, but I have absolutely no memory of my father ever sailing it anywhere. It was always on the mooring. Perhaps it was just his man-cave. I failed to appreciate that idea at the time, but now that I think back, it must have been hard for him when he had to sell it.
And then I ended up in the engine room, or rooms, or area. I think I had been optimistic with my appraisal of the ship's age. Sure, there were plenty of modern appendages and upgrades, but the state of the overall hull was worn out and haggard. But then again, maybe the vessel was less than a year old, and this was the toll that the ocean had already taken on it.
Someone then yelled out over the roar of the diesel stinking machinery. A guy in earmuffs and overalls waved me aside and closed a metal door behind.
"Sorry, do you speak English?" I asked, in that same tone of voice that I've said a billion fucking times.
The tough-looking, fifty-year-old grumbled through his gray beard, "What you looking for?"
"Nothing," I said with a smile, glancing around the panels covered in dials and switches, pressure gauges and old-school buttons. Not a digital screen was anywhere in sight. "Just looking around."
"Very busy here. No time sight-seeing."
"Do you need a hand?"
The engineer twisted his mouth to one side, "My English not so good."
"My French is worse."
"Osip," the guy said, patting his chest. "What your name?"
"Alan," I said, and for the life of me, I have no idea why I used my father's name. Maybe, it was easier that going through that boring conversation of trying to get foreigners to articulate, 'Bruce'. "Call me, Alan."
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 4
I was surprised how quickly my first day at sea went. There were no windows in the engineering section of the ship, so when I went up on deck again, I was encapsulated within pitch black.
At dinner, I counted eighteen, including myself, in the mess-hall. All men. I assumed there were at least one or two on the bridge, so let's say there were around twenty aboard. Judging by their attire, half were scientists. Yet, everyone looked like the sort of guys that you would find pouring asphalt on roadworks. They all seemed to have a precise role to fill on the ship, except for me. I was a fifth wheel, and didn't know if Osip really needed my help, or if I was slowing him down.
After dinner, I grabbed the laptop that Chloe had given me to write this Logbook, and I sat on the bridge composing her a WTF e-mail. The internet was restricted, so I saved my message until the morning.
I was staring out the wide windows at the spray crashing down over the ship, when I slowly became aware of another individual standing over the radar. I hadn't seen him at dinner. He quickly noticed my prying eye, and nodded once. He was like a bearded Cary Grant, but a lot more bitter. I had no doubt that this was the captain of the ship, and Samuel's description framed him perfectly. He took a seat and didn't bother me as we both stared out into the abyss ahead.
Rain soon smothered the windows, as I listened to Horn Of The Rhino, Brought Back, through my headphones. Drifting back over my memories, I rocked with the ship's slow-motion highs and lows. I could hear that familiar sound of metal cables whipping against metal masts, like the rope against a flag pole. It was the rattling of a marina in a strong wind. Whenever I had to help my father with the yacht, I always volunteered to row the dinghy out to the mooring. I still have this weird love/hate relationship with deep water. I liked to row the boat but I was petrified of looking over the edge. It wasn't so bad when we were on the yacht where the water was just a constant jade. But in the shallows, I could make out dark shapes that drove my teenage imagination into hyper-drive. There was one summer's
day when my friends borrowed kayaks. Not wanting to look like a chicken shit, I joined in. Everything was Jim-Dandy, as long as I didn't look down. Like my first vacation in Greece, when my Fiance and I had hired a paddle boat and ended up a good kilometer from Corfu, yet I was fine. However, when I looked down and realized where I was, a wave of panic surged through my nervous system! I had to remind myself to look straight ahead. Don't fucking look down, you idiot! But what if I fell in?! No! That's not going to happen. Everything is fantastic. You will never fall overboard. Just don't look down and you have nothing to fear but the fear of Jaws itself. Remember, people are watching. Man up! But then there was that one time when I had fair reason to shit my pants. It had been a brilliant summer's day when I was around twelve. My father and I had decided to climb around the rocks between our local bays. I had always liked exploring and looking for pirate treasure as a kid, so this was my idea of a good time. Except we had gone further that either my father or I had realized, and the tide had begun to come in. He knew we couldn't make it back the way we'd come. There were cliffs above so we had to keep going around to the next beach. We could see it from where we were so there was no cause for alarm. Until we came to a large section in the rocks where it dropped off. There was this five-meter-gap that was impossible to climb around. I was horrified! The family dog, Smoky, didn't give a damn as my father threw him into the choppy waves. He happily swam and then scrambled up the other side like a real fucking trooper. My father was the kind of guy who once took a litter of unwanted kittens in a sack and threw them out to sea. He didn't fuck around. Telling me to climb on his back, he said he would leap onto a rock just under the water half-way across the gap. I stared into that great divide and thought he was fucking insane! But what choice did we have. So, like a skinny rodent, I clung to my big father and dug my fingers in as we took a leap of faith. There is something about trusting someone in that kind of situation that makes you admire them on a fundamental level.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 5
OF NO USE
I had my alarm set for 6am, but everyone had already finished breakfast by the time I walked into the deserted mess-hall. Taking my coffee up to the bridge, I found the crew all staring out the back windows. That was when I learned that the ship had been built as a trawler before being modified into a research vessel in the late 90's. At the stern of the ship, large hydraulic cranes were deploying equipment into the foam.
After my coffee, I headed down to the aft deck to see if I could be of some assistance. I was however, quickly told to get the fuck out of the way! At least that's what the crew's tone of voice and gestures implied. So, I stayed back like a good little dumbfuck.
The storm seemed to have worsened overnight. I cringed when some kind of large, submersible thing swung wildly on the crane, and then smashed against the railing, before dropping into the waves. They built them tough, cause that thing just had the shit knocked out of it.
I enjoyed watching the crew busy themselves on deck, but there's only so much voyeurism I can deal with before the devil wants my idle hands.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 6
EVERYONE HAS AN AGENDA
Samuel was preoccupied with his scans of the sea floor, and he had nothing but a snobbish grunt for me.
I ended up in the engine room, helping Osip and two other mechanics with a series of busted fuses. The weather was putting some major strain on the systems, and multiple pressure valves were hissing louder than pistons. Osip said that we were dragging sonar equipment for some oil company, as well as another machine for a telecommunications conglomerate. Science doesn't pay for itself, after all. It seemed like everyone aboard was working for various international corporations. No wonder the conversation around the dinner table was as superficial as shit. Samuel was right to be paranoid, apparently even Osip had signed some huge nondisclosure contract before shipping out. In fact, this was Osip's first voyage on RV Onbekend. From what I could make out, Osip had moved to Belgium a year ago while looking for work. Said he had previously earned his keep on the Black Sea. Before that, he was vague, mumbling about some falling out that he had had with his family church.
The other two engineers soon displayed their growing intolerance toward my presence, but I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I let them stew in their fucking juices. And it stunk something rancid in that humid hole.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 7
BETTER THAN A COLD SHOWER
We seemed to get the overloaded systems under control by midday, so I pulled my wet-weather gear on top my overalls and headed up on deck. Sweating like a filthy fuck, I went right up to the bow. The very first wave that I faced, collided with the ship with such force that all I saw was a mountainous spectacle of white water above. I had about one second to live in regret before I was slammed into and swept clean off my fucking feet! Sliding down the flooded deck, I thumped into something solid and clung to it as the sea drained away. Winded and soaking, I slowly climbed to my knees, just as another massive wave thumped onto my back! Holding on with instantly frozen fingers, I looked up and saw the crew in the bridge laughing at me like the stupid shit that I was. But I swallowed that flight instinct. A smaller wave poured past as I turned into the storm. Grabbing the railing on the side of the bow, I inched all the way up to a ladder heading to the very tip of the ship. More icy foam gushed over my head, but my pride demanded that I climb up to the top and see the oncoming battery with my own two eyes – I didn't make it. Grabbed from behind, one of the crew screamed at me as he pointed back at the bridge.
Expecting a grilling, I stood hunched and shivering in front of the angry-looking men on the bridge. The captain however, only gave me a brief glance.
"Don't do that again," was all he said, and everyone went back to work.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 8
WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING HERE
Warming myself with a few mugs of coffee and clean clothes, I was sitting in the empty mess-hall, when I heard Samuel's voice coming from down the corridor. With a blanket
around my shoulders, I peered around the door, but I was distracted by a small round window. There I saw the only other ship that I had seen since we had left port. It was a tiny fishing boat. Those cunts had some serious backbone to risk this weather. Samuel then walked by at the intersection of the passageways. He was busy talking Spanish on a satellite phone, so I followed him. I wanted to know if he was speaking to Chloe. The ship then rocked violently and I spilled my coffee over the blanket. By the time I steadied myself, Samuel was nowhere in sight. Hurrying down the passageways, I soon heard him yelling, and then I walked into a large cargo hold. Samuel abruptly went silent and stepped out from behind a stack of crates. "Bruce?"
"What are you doing?"
"Heard you on the phone."
"You know protocol. No phones or means of tracking our location aboard!"
"I saw you."
Knowing full well that I'd seen the thick aerial of the satellite phone, I slowly said, "I need to call to Chloe."
"Enough of this talk of Chloe!"
"She paid for my little trip. Don't you think I should be doing something out here on her behalf?"
"No! All she wants is for you to be here. That's it!"
"She said you had something for me to do out here!"
"Why the hell did you even come? Last year you expressed absolutely no interest. And that suited me just fine! What, or who exactly changed you mind?! Who have you been speaking to?!"
Smiling, I glared back into the old professor's bloodshot eyes. Perhaps he knew about my encounter with Aviv at Christmas. "Just over a week ago, for my thirty-ninth birthday, instead of strippers or steak, I did a spontaneous suspension. My first."
"You know, meat hooks in your shoulder-blades."
"Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?"
"Seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Yeah, well, maybe. But the moment my feet left the floor, I saw something. That's the only reason I came. Not for you, or your precious fucking archeology. So, you can calm the fuck down. I'm not here for you."
"Great, you're schizophrenic too."
"Man, I'm just fucking bored. Give me something to do, that's all I'm asking."
"Go ask the captain, if you must!"
"Speak to the captain? Now you want me talking to him?"
"Do what you like! Just don't bother me! I'm not your damn babysitter!"
Holding my blanket tight, I glared back at the fidgety old guy as he began coughing. With no intention of wasting another moment on that prick, I sneered, "Yeah. See you round."
As soon as I stepped out of the cargo hold, I ran down the long passageways to the lab. There were two others working on their computers, as I casually leaned over Samuel's work space. His laptop was obviously password-protected, but beneath it were several enormous charts of the English Channel and North Sea. Spreading them out, I stared at a cluster of numbers marked in red. I might as well have been reading equations written by Stephen Hawking. Rolling them up, I marched back to the bridge with a cheery skip to my step.
There was now only one guy at the helm, and he was coughing his lungs out. He didn't speak a lick on English, and as I showed him the charts and pointed to the highlighted areas, he shook his head annoyed, then pulled me over to a computer, muttering something in French as he tapped at the screen. I was blank-faced. He snarled madly, grabbed the charts, and then began typing in the red numbers. Suddenly an alarm rang throughout the bridge! Yelling, the guy tossed the charts aside and snatched up his two-way radio. Staring back at the computer, I was lost. I can't read anything in French. Were the numbers coordinates, the sea depth, or just the phone numbers for international hookers.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 9
I wanted to ask Osip about the charts but he was even busier and there was a loud howling noise that hadn't come from the engine before.
So, I put on my rubber pants, coat, and boots, and went out onto the back of the ship. There, several guys were reeling in a heavy cable.
Finally, I found something to do in the kitchen, and peeled potatoes like a chump. Still better than doing nothing.
I avoided the crew at dinner and ate in the kitchen.
Spending the evening in my corner of the bridge, the captain and I ignored each other as I listened to 1000mods, Low, and watched the waves crash over the bow. It was completely black out there, and then I'd feel the drop just before the white spray was lit up by the ship's lights. Last year, when I had visited my aunt in Edinburgh, she had mentioned something in a passing comment that had stuck with me. She said that my father had been dealt a 'bum-hand'. Generally, I don't dwell on my family often, but when I do, it's my father who comes to mind. I remind myself never to become like him, yet I recognized the value of the lessons that he had tried to teach me. For like Michel Foucault said, "We must mine our history for the gold." I always remember my father yelling, but I also remember him laughing just as much. When I was sixteen, he hired a small motorcycle and taught me to ride. He rode his own bike and roared with laughter at my attempts to change gear on an uphill. It wasn't fun, though vastly easier than learning to ride a bicycle. I could always hear my father's motorcycle coming for a mile off. The specific tone the engine. And then the jingle of his key chain. He wasn't in a biker gang, but he could have run one. Yet, he dressed more like John Wayne. He was half-biker, half-cowboy, existing in a cross-over world that was all his own. There was this story that he told, one summer when he was young, while riding his Triumph in Scotland, a fucking bumble bee flew into his shirt! He swerved on the highway and slammed on the breaks. In the middle of the stalled traffic, like a lunatic, he ripped off his clothes, threw them on the street, and then pulled out a handgun and shot the shit out of his fucking shirt! Classic. I'm amazed he never spent time in prison. Guess my aunt was right when she said that his time in the military straightened him out. One important lesson I learned from him was: WALK WITH YOUR CHIN UP! When I was a kid, he used to design the firing mechanisms for guns, and then he would build them out of wood. He then showed me how to file down a plank of wood into the hull of a Spanish gallon, which became one of my favorite childhood toys. I spent hours alone, out the back of the house in the dark workshop, chiseling away at that block of wood. He didn't just teach me a craft, he taught me to confront my fear of the dark, until all I saw was the work. Just like now. All I see is what I focus on. The storm wasn't even there unless I thought about it.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 10
WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE
I woke the next morning to find that I wasn't alone. Several others were still sleeping, so I double checked my alarm clock.
While on my second mug of coffee, I gradually climbed up to the bridge in the dark morning light. It was hailing, and my thick raincoat felt like a cozy sleeping bag. I saw Samuel's charts still rolled up and in the corner, but I had no interest in attempting communication with either of the two crewmen.
It wasn't long before one of those two sailors began a coughing fit that only ended once he collapsed upon the floor! I turned my head, watching as the other crewman took a knee to help. With one hand on the window frame, the other buried in my warm pocket, I was perplexed as the crewman yelled something in French before I was left all by lonesome on the bridge. Glancing around, over either shoulder, I opened my mouth but had no one to express my formal concerns toward. Seriously, you left me responsible for the entire ship? Where the fuck was the captain?! Stepping over to the consoles, I was wide-eyed above what could have been a mixing desk in a sound studio, for all I knew. There wasn't even a steering wheel to cling to for dear life. So, I just stood there in the middle of the bridge, not touching a fucking
thing. But then again, there was nothing out there in all that gray mist, just waves beyond the frosted glass.
Captain Grant soon appeared, and I shrugged at his cautious approach as if he wanted to say, what-the-fuck-do-you-think-you're-doing-at-the-helm? My expression relayed, I-don't-even-know-but-you're-fucking-welcome-motherfucker.
Seems I was wrong. I actually enjoyed the early mornings. With the new year, I had decided to go to the gym in the mornings instead of after work, and to my surprise, I had adapted remarkably easily. Maybe I was getting old and needed less sleep. I hoped so. Sleep is an utter waste of time. Though, I was anticipating having a shaky time once we returned to dry land. The longest I had ever spent on a boat before this, was a fishing trip with my father and his buddies on a crappy launch in the gulf between the island and the city. I was never into fishing, and that was the one and only time I ever partook, but we had a good haul. I even took a turn on the wheel, motoring straight into flocks of seagulls that were dive-bombing schools of fish near the surface. It was all fun and games until the weather packed in, then I had sat in the cabin, clutching the seat with white knuckles. I had no faith in that tiny boat against the chop. Of course, we made it safe and sound to calmer waters, but that night my balance was way off, so now, I wondered how long it would take for my inner-ear to recover after this extended excursion. Maybe, if you're a lifer, like Captain Grant, you only ever feel normal on a perpetually moving platform. A few years ago, while my back tattoo was getting completed, I read, The Old Man And The Sea. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, yet it left a rather mocking impression upon me. You spend your whole life doing what you do best, and then you wake up an old man and you still have nothing. Even when you finally get a chance to prove yourself, you're left with fucking nothing. Nothing but another day of try, try, and try again. It's the only work of Hemingway that I've read, but I heard somewhere that he once said, "You have to live life before you can write about it." My father came to mind, he had always been a man's man. A rebel forced into the army. Worked in the shipyards. Was a scrapper and a boxer. Climbed mountains and traveled the world before he met my mother at a bus shelter while hiking. Then he was a weight-lifter and literally slaughtered sheep for the table. A drinker who made home-brew. Rode big bikes and worked the land. Loved his guns, knives, and westerns. When on a school trip with my brother, he slipped on a mud track and permanently injured his knee. On that same trip however, he loved to recall how, while riding horses, my brother's stallion suddenly bolted! He shrieked like a little girl, and my father laughed just like I did. My brother never went near a horse again. Unlike my older brother, the good, strong son, I was the weakling, so I had to prove myself with whatever means I could. When I turned fifteen, I took the opportunity to prove that I wouldn't allow an animal to intimate me. I never saw them as much more than meat. Once you've seen rabbits bred, butchered, and buttered up on your dinner plate since childhood, you soon appreciate that you're made of the exact same stuff. Some say that animals therefore should have rights and be respected. I however, went the other way. We are no more than worthless fucking meat! Like when my father was lying unconscious in his hospital bed surrounded by family, I just watched his heart monitor slow down to nothing. And I felt nothing. He had finally become nothing. I might have both feared and admired him, but at the end of the day, I utterly hated that miserable old prick, and I was glad that he was fucking dead! I stood over his body. He was defeated. I was not. As my mother, brother, and sister wept, I stood with dry eyes, just like at his funeral. If nothing else, I would never repeat his self-confessed mistakes. If his genes live through me, then I will be all I will be. I am the son of man. And I have no pity for the past.
And then a huge tarpaulin down on the front deck tore loose! The captain grabbed his radio and barked orders, but to no response. I looked at the growing irritation of the captain, so I shook my head and pulled up my hood.
The rain was like getting shot with a thousand BB guns all at once. As I made it to the flapping sheet, another crewman also arrived on the scene. Only one side of the tarpaulin was still roped down, and just as the other guy grabbed his corner, the ship dropped, a wave crashed, and a wind picked up, sending the guy flying five-meters into the fucking air! I couldn't help but smirk when he slammed flat on the deck like a pancake!
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 11
STRESSFUL DAY AT SEA
It took about half an hour to get the tarpaulin pinned down. I was exhausted and soaked through. Felt as though I had been wrestling with a giant hog on a leash. I had no dry clothes left to change into, and began wondering if this wet-weather gear was doing anything at all. My rubber boots were full of water and the pack of think woolen socks that Chloe had given me before departure, were now all wet. I don't know how fishermen do it. Was there some technique to keeping the water out, or do they simply not give a fuck. While sitting in the mess-hall with a mug of coffee, I ringed out my socks and stared at the rivets in the walls. That was when the cook walked in. He paused and then blurted out something in French. I was too tired to care, so shook my head, straining to remember the French word for 'WHAT?!'
"You not sick?!" the cook managed.
"Only in the head," I sneered with a scowl.
"Everyone sick! We go home!"
I sat up, looking around as the cook disappeared into the kitchen. Pulling on my damp soaks with salty hands, I sunk my cold feet back into my boots, and then went to confirm the cook's revelation.
There was a small infirmary, and someone lay in the one and only cot. I immediately headed to the bunks, and found nearly all of them full. Crew and scientists alike, all shivering with a fever. Even Samuel was wrapped up in blankets with eyes clenched shut.
I was on my way to the bridge when suddenly that constant hum of the engine fell silent and was replaced with the ever-present collisions of great waves. Changing direction, I went straight to engineering.
Osip was yelling, as I looked down from the railing. Another crewman was on his knees vomiting, while plumes of steam gushed from a vent and something like oil poured from a rattling pipe. Avoiding the sick seaman, I called out to Osip. He was still cursing in Russian, but pulled me close, pointing to a row of gauges that were all on zero. I had no idea what Osip was saying or what the problem was, but he put me to work. Less than a minute later, Captain Grant himself showed up, and exchanged some serious words with the engineer.
It only took the whole day before the steam was replaced with a slow moan, and then that grinding as the engine returned to the tense suspicion of everyone.
I accompanied the captain to the bridge and finally asked what the fuck was going on. He merely repeated the cook's assessment, but he was absolutely livid once we found the last sailor passed out on the bridge floor. The captain took to the intercom, and soon all the remaining crew arrived on the bridge. Unfortunately, that was only Osip and the cook. No one else showed up. Shit was getting real. And due to the failing engine, Osip insisted that we shouldn't push the ship too hard, despite the captain's priority of returning to the mainland ASAP. It was the cook who then silenced the yelling men. I followed his outstretched arm, and we all saw a huge ship emerge from the distant fog. The captain immediately grabbed the radio, in both English and French, he made an emergency call, but only static replied. He then noticed what the rest of us already had. This big ship was leaning awkwardly forward. It was maybe twice the size of the RV Onbekend, but listing and dead in the water. My first assumption was that it was a cargo ship, and then there was this drawn out moment where everyone slowly looked at each other, before scanning the distant ship again. The captain tried the radio once more. Nothing. He then grabbed his binoculars, and we all waited.
"We have to go aboard."
My neck slowly craned around, and I whispered, "We?"
"It's our duty. The ship's in distress."
"We in distress!" Osip yelled, grabbing the captain. "No one to spare!"
It seemed, for Captain Grant, to be a matter of principle. "We three will take an outboard and investigate."
"And leave the cook in charge?" I frowned.
"He's the only one qualified to steer the ship."
"You're fucking kidding me."
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 12
We dressed in wetsuits under out wet-weather gear, and I wished that I had had this shit two days ago. Osip hung lengths of rope over his shoulder, and handed out big flashlights. The captain said that we had to hurry, as it was already getting dark. We would only look for initial signs of life, grab the logbook, and plant a GPS beckon so that the coast guard could salvage the wreck.
It all sounded reasonable enough, that was, until I was looking down at the huge waves between the two ships. At that point, I grabbed an extra life-jacket and pulled it over my raincoat. I was NOT a happy camper! The wind was deafening as Osip worked a crane and lowered the outboard. I was extremely unimpressed. It looked like the jet boats that Greenpeace used to harass Japanese whalers, but from my point of view, it was thrown about like a tampon in a flushing toilet. Shaking my head, trying to see the humor in the situation, I nervously chuckled to myself, "I didn't sign up for this shit."
We had to climb down a rope ladder and then just jump into the outboard. Hopefully we would get our timing right and not break a leg or get tossed out. I really, really didn't want to do this bullshit. But then again, the ego never wants to swallow its pride. So, fuck it. I landed and was shoved immediately against the side of the research vessel! Osip caught my collar and pulled me back just as a gap opened and the outboard sped away. We all huddled behind the windscreen in the center of the inflatable, as it bounced across the swollen sea. At least it was a quick trip.
However, the next ordeal was scaling the hull of the unknown ship. It might have actually been fun, if I wasn't worried that I could get crushed between the two boats. Osip went up a rusted ladder near the rear of the ship. Then it was my turn. I missed the rungs at first, caught the ladder on my second attempt, and then the outboard dropped out from under me! I clung on like a leech. But then the sea rose up and went way over my head. Panic seized every inch of my body. So, I reached up and climbed. Climbed for oxygen. Climbed the fuck out of this clusterfuck of freezing fucking water. Suddenly the sea dropped and I was exposed again. I didn't stop for anything. Up, up, and over the motherfucking top I went.
Osip laughed and swung me against a wall where I grabbed a banister and wished I had never come on this fucking nightmare expedition. I'm no sailor! I hate the fucking sea! I don't fucking belong here, "For fuck's sake!"
As the captain pulled himself over the railing, I glared back at the ship that we had just left. It was a good hundred-meters away. And then it struck me, we had just boarded a sinking fucking ship! What the fuck was I thinking?! This is a job for brave young heroes, not a fucking asshole like me!
Osip made the astute observation that all the lifeboats were still here. It wasn't until we piled into the abandoned bridge that we all took note of how bad the situation really was. The ship was leaning 30° to the port-side, and the bow was hardly above the waves anymore. She was going down, and nothing could stop it.
"We not search whole ship," Osip asserted.
The captain nodded, busy switching switches, thumping control panels, and checking the dead intercom. "If you get the engine started, we could run the pumps, and buy some time while looking for survivors."
"Engine?! You fucking crazy?!" Osip said exactly what I was thinking. "This ghost-ship! We come, find no one, now we go!"
"We have time." Captain Grant seemed oblivious to our anger. "Check the crew quarters in the aft."
"Look, night here!" Osip yelled grabbing the captain. "You say we go before dark!"
"And now I'm ordering you to check the aft!"
My earlier assumption that the captain reminded me of Cary Grant was way off. This cunt had no charm or charisma.
"Fifteen minutes, we leave," Osip said slowly, backing out as I reluctantly followed. My last glimpse through the windows, was of another enormous wave sweeping over the front of the doomed ship.
"Got any idea how long before this thing goes under?" I asked, as we struggled along a distorted corridor. "You ever done this sort of shit before?"
"No," Osip said, peering into empty cabins. "First time."
"What do you think happened here?"
Osip stopped and looked at me. "What I think. Captain should know better!"
"Crew find breach. Radio mayday. Other ship save them. Ship left to sink," Osip speculated with distinct logic. "We should not be here!"
"Been saying that for days," I grumbled, as we continued, checking empty room after room.
"Jesus!" Osip yelled, lunging back from the door that he had just bashed in. Swinging my flashlight into the tiny cabin, I was repulsed by the stench of bodily fluids. Mostly the stink of old spit and bad breath. Our flashlights focused on what was balled up in the corner. Like some Mayan mummy, a man was plastered within hundreds of pieces of paper. At least five discarded Bible covers lay about the floor. The paper-mache cocoon looked solid and spread right out onto the walls, securing the incarcerated occupant to the corner. His legs were sealed up close to his chest. His hands covered his face, which was the only part left exposed. Osip stepped carefully into the cabin, slowly reaching out – when suddenly we both heard the cocoon begin to cry. He was still alive! Swearing in Russian, Osip tore at the pages on the wall in an attempt to free the man, but the occupant instantly began screeching! He didn't want our help. This guy had done this to himself.
Shaking his head, Osip backed way, pulling out his radio. "We get captain."
But there was either no reception or something had happened to Captain Grant. Quickly retracing our steps back to the bridge, we found our miserable captain leaning over a laptop, watching video footage of crewmen working the deck on the ship.
"What's that?" I asked, as we all braced ourselves while the ship heaved harder than before.
"It's all in Norwegian. But the equipment is for survey the sea floor."
"Like we're doing?"
"This is much better hardware. Used to chart vast areas. Probably for a pipeline."
"That's nice," Osip stated. "We find someone."
"Psychotic," I added. "You speak Norwegian?"
On our way back to the crew quarters, the captain relayed his findings, "They struck something last night. The submersibles dragging behind caught on something. It stopped the entire ship where it was. The water's not so deep around here at Dogger Bank."
"Maybe they found Samuel's standing stones."
"What are you talking about?" the captain asked.
"Honestly, I don't know shit. It's his obsession, not mine."
"What do you think they found?" Captain Grant insisted.
"I don't know, the Stonehenge of Doggerland. You know, magick circles and shit."
"What you know of such things?" Osip demanded.
"Seriously, this isn't my fucking fetish. It's Samuel's thing."
"What exactly do you know about it, then?!" The captain was at the end of this tether. "Speak!"
"Back before the water rose, people lived out here, right. It was dry land. Samuel reckons places like Stonehenge weren't built as sites of worship, but as places where evil shit was buried. You know, big stones hold down bad things. He's got this pet-conspiracy-theory, that the people who built these megaliths needed some real hardcore fucking motivation. The kind of energy put into erecting these stones should have been put into defenses or food. He reckons it was a way of protecting themselves from, I don't fucking know. But the seafloor here's flat as fuck, isn't it? If you're dragging a net or whatever, and it suddenly gets caught in some fifty-ton stone, that's bound to fuck up your day, isn't it? Isn't it?!"
"We would have found such stones by now," the captain dismissed. "These waters are thoroughly known,"
"Well, you'd know then. So, what the fuck happened here? What could stop a ship this fucking size dead its tracks?"
"I don't know."
Once we reached that stinking cabin, to our confusion, the bundled-up man had somehow completed his cocoon and cover his face and hands in spit-wet Bible pages.
Captain Grant stood in the doorway, glaring in. "Is he alive?"
"He was," Osip said, glancing down the blackened corridor. "He spoke."
The captain placed his hand on that rigid mass of paper. Nothing. Putting his ear on the cocoon he listened. "He's not breathing."
"He kill himself?" Osip shook his head. "Ah, I hate this!"
"We can't leave him here," the captain asserted, standing back as he stared at the grotesque cocoon. "We have to search for others."
"No! No more!" Osip was unflinching with determination. "We find this! We leave now!"
Suddenly a hand broke out of the bible pages and grabbed the captain's arm! The man inside then kept screaming the same thing over and over, until finally the captain yanked himself free – just as the derelict was smashed into by something worse than a wave! The collision sent everyone ass over elbow. The floor rose, dropped, and then everything went sideways and back again to the sound of shrieking metal on metal.
Running for our lives back to the bridge, Osip insisted on knowing what the crewman had screamed, even though we hadn't even tried to free him. The captain was only interested in radioing his own ship, but to no response. When we made it topside, we discovered the RV Onbekend was now floating parallel to the ghost-ship and right within spitting distance. Snatching Osip's radio, the captain tried hailing his ship again, but we couldn't see even a light onboard anymore. The engine must have died. As the last remnants of daylight faded, all the world was plunged into chaos, and I thought of Milton, "Into this wild abyss the wary Fiend stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while, pondering his voyage."
"We're so fucked!" I whispered.
"Get to the boat!" the captain ordered, stuffing the laptop into a sealable plastic bag and handing it Osip. "Radio me when you get on board. Get the engine running!"
"The fuck are you going?" I yelled, as the two men went in opposite directions without hesitation. "Jesus fuck!"
"Forward hold!" the captain shouted over the wind. "He said the rest of the crew were in the forward hold!"
Everything forward was underwater. My choice was a no-brainer. Jumping down a staircase, I hurried after Osip – just as the research vessel came plowing straight into the side of the derelict and annihilated our escape route! The ladder was sheared off, and the outboard was completely obliterated.
"Fuck!" Osip yelled, along with other things in Russian that I assumed had similar implications.
"There's plenty of lifeboats!" I called out, my mind racing.
"Lifeboat not take us to ship! No motor against current. We not go back to Onbekend!"
Now if there's one thing you don't want to surround yourself with in a disaster situation, it's a naysayer who's given up all hope. I ran back inside and went after the captain.
It took me all of 30 seconds to regret my new decision, as I sunk knee-deep into water full of fucking seaweed. No one likes walking through seaweed. Seaweed is only ever any good when it's in sushi. Fuck this shit! And I yelled with everything my lungs had, "CAPTAIN! WHERE THE FUCK?!"
A voice that was most definitely not the captains then moaned without words.
With a pissed off sigh, I marched on, gripping my flashlight like a fucking club. There were busted pipes and cables hanging all over the passageway with sloshing water in every space. Just look straight ahead, I kept telling myself, don't look at what you're walking through. La, la, la. Everything will be fine. Blah, blah, bull-fucking-shit! The ship heaved and a small wave surged down the corridor and into me. Slipping on the slimy weeds, I nearly fell on my ass. I punched the wall and then stood straight up with a snarl. Fuck this place! Cracking my neck from side to side, I relaxed. Fatalism took over. This isn't the end of my story. I've been in worse situations. Though, I couldn't actually think of when.
That hissing voice groaned again. The water was half-way up my thighs as I looked into that room. An old man, in not a thread of clothes, sat upon a large, winch-like machine. He had no legs, as they had been fed into the meat-grinder of a mechanism. Preoccupied with a pair of needle-nose pliers, he took little notice of my presence. Merely squinting at my flashlight, he ripped chunks of fat from his own belly. He was eating himself! I began backing away into deeper waters, when I heard the mutilated man whisper, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither. The sea gave, and the sea hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the sea."
There was then this awful sound of bones cracking and meat slowly tearing. Grasping the edge of the door frame, I leaned around as that deranged man splashed into the water. Regardless of his crippled state, he swam at me like a fucking alligator! His teeth flared and claws slashing out. I wrenched the door shut, driving it right into the man's skull. Bashing him aside with my flashlight, I pulled the fucking door shut. Spinning the handle, I heard him shrieking and scratching on the other side.
"Come out on a boat trip, see the sights, they said," I laughed sarcastically to myself. "It'll be fun, they said. You'll love it."
And then that unmistakable impact of the two ships striking each other, knocked me clean off my feet! I slammed into the very door that I had just sealed, and the whole ship leaned dangerously close to capsizing. With another demonic howling of fractured metal, the hull however, corrected itself the right way up. I was furious with terror! While yelling for the fucking captain, I knew that the way out would always be upwards, and getting lost in a ghost-ship was never something I had planned to accomplish. I then waded into a huge space where water was leaking from high above. Captain Grant was standing a few meters ahead, staring into the darkness. His flashlight was at his side, underwater and ignored.
"For the love of fuck!" I yelled, as the ship leaned again and the water dragged at my legs. "This party is over! Let's get the fuck–"
The flooring beneath my feet disappeared and I sunk like a lead-weight. If the place wasn't flooded, I would have seen that I had been on a catwalk. Luckily, I managed to catch a railing and my life-jacket brought me back up. That's when I saw what the captain was so transfixed by. The light from my torch reflected off the surface of the water and glistened across the ceiling beams. Yeah, we found the crew. What was left of them. It was as if the internal organs of thirty men had been melted together and stuck to the ceiling like a gigantic wad of bloody chewing gum. There was no sign of their limbs or heads. Just webbed bowels, bloated membranes, and skinned flesh. It could have been an effect of the distorted light and the
swaying of the ship, but the multiple lungs and exposed hearts still seemed to be functioning. I mean, the whole fucking thing was breathing!
The moment I grabbed the captain's shoulder, the two vessels locked horns again! If there was an appropriate time to shit your pants, it was right then as the ship rolled clean over! It was like being trapped inside an enormous fucking washing machine. Gagging on salt water, I was lost to utter disorder. Once the ship rocked into some sense of equilibrium, I found myself clinging to a wall. The ship was now lying totally on its port side. Coughing like a diesel engine, I heard something to my right. That mutilated madman lurched through the water at my throat! Crashing back, I was shoved under – but just as quickly, I was dragged away. The captain held me by my life-jacket while he beat the shit out of that legless freak with his spare fist!
"You done napping?" the captain said deadpan. "Come on. Let's get going."
"Really?! What's the rush?!" I spat, as we began climbing the plumbing toward the doorway that was now high above us. A hand then sprung out of the water and grabbed my ankle! I can't express how satisfying it was to stomp that demented fuck in his delirious fucking face!
A new noise then came from that disfigured mass of human body parts. There was movement coming from inside of that abominable sack of flesh. Just when I thought nothing could make me hate the sea more, something began tearing itself out of the mesh of organs. We all start out as fetal fish-people, before we evolve into biped human-fucking-beings, but my only question was, what the fuck was that thing being born as?
The door had shut during the capsizing, and the captain seemed to be struggling to open it. I joined him, right when that legless cunt came crawling up the wall below us.
With another BOOM from the two colliding vessels, the captain managed to finally rip open the door. As we hurried into the sideways corridor, I heard a slopping explosion. Glancing back, I saw something big and black pouring out of that patchwork sack of human atrocity. I raised my torch, but only saw the legless man grinning as he climbed through the doorway. Then he screamed! Watching for another moment, as he was torn back into the flooded hold, I then ran the fuck off! His shrieks restored my slacking adrenaline.
The captain and I scrambled up to the bridge, just as a massive swell swept over the entire derelict! We were both washed back into the passageways, but he and I quickly made it outside just as the sinking ship began to rotate! To my hysterical relief, Osip's flashlight revealed his position aboard one of the freed lifeboats. On any other occasion, the idea swimming in open seas was never a fucking option, but we waited for nothing and swam frantically from the rolling hull.
After Osip pulled me aboard the lifeboat, I looked back and it appeared as though the upside-down derelict was a god-sized dead whale. Our ship however, was nowhere to be seen. I was never prouder of my feeble swimming abilities than that frozen night of inexplicable encounters.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 13
A fishing boat from Denmark picked us up just after dawn.
We were taken to a hospital in Den Helder.
The RV Onbekend was located and rescued by the British Navy. The entire crew was found unconscious and suffering from hypothermia.
There were no reported sightings of the Norwegian derelict despite the beckon that we had attached.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 14
IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
I was standing outside the entrance to the hospital, still dressed in the wetsuit and raincoat. Without ID, cash, or phone, I had to wait for Captain Grant to arrange a ride back to Belgium. The wind was almost as bad there as it had been on the voyage, and my balance was all over the place. At least, for once, I wasn't soaking wet, as I crossed my arms over the salt-stiff layers. A nurse had dried our gear while we were getting checked by the doctors. Apart from a few cuts and bruises, the three of us were perfectly fine.
Osip appeared, saying that there was a phone call for me. I shook my head, who the fuck knew where I was? Taking a step toward the entrance, Osip said it was some woman called Chloe. Ah, and I stopped, returning my gaze back to the bleak parking lot.
"You no want to talk?" Osip asked.
"So, what's next for you?" I replied, as he shrugged and stood side by side. "You heading home?"
"Yeah, you know, that place where you shit and sleep."
"No. Why return to Moldova?"
"Moldova. Home. I come from."
"Thought you were Russian."
"Soviet times. Speak Russian."
""The man from Moldova.""
"You happen to know any women," I asked, with a pause. "From Iran?"
Osip roared with laughter. "I know women from everywhere!"
I joined him in a chuckle. "Specifically, Iranian. In the last year or two?"
Osip's smirk slowly faded and he looked away. "Women from here, from there. What does it matter. Woman is woman. But past not the same."
The rain began again, and Osip lit a cigarette. Thinking about his words, I wondered if the outcome last night would have been the same whether I had run after the captain or stayed with Osip. Either way, he was right, our experiences weren't the same.
"Women are like Muslims and Jews. Abraham, father both. But Ishmael and Isaac both say they god's chosen one. Same story, different stories. First born, son of whore. Second born, son of wife. Who is illegitimate? Both? I not know."
Soon, Captain Grant came out while going through a thick folder of paperwork. The laptop from the derelict was still wrapped in plastic and under his arm.
"God speaks to Abraham. God himself. God tells Abraham sacrifice son. Isaac or Ishmael. The one chosen to die. But it not god who stop Abraham. Abraham should have sacrificed son. But angel stop him. Genesis 22. Perhaps angel was fallen one. Demon wants illegitimate son to live. Perhaps that why god never speaks to Abraham after."
"Why did you leave Moldova?"
"Was deacon," Osip coughed with a smile. "But blasphemy is blasphemy."
A van then drove into the parking lot, and the captain waved it down.
"She was very beautiful. Long black hair. I not know if she was from Iran, but she looked so."
"The messenger. The one who excommunicated me."
"Why do you think a devil spared the illegitimate son of Abraham?"
Osip walked straight out into the rain and climbed into the van, casually saying, "Divide and conquer."
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 15
I spent most of the drive south sleeping, but awoke just before Ostend.
My phone, wallet, and some spare clothes were in a locker at the port office, and it was there that Captain Grant finally confronted me. "The rest of your belongings will be mailed back to you. You're not stepping aboard my ship again."
"You weren't studying deep water currents. You and your associate lied by your own admission," he stated from across the locker room. "Get your things and get out!"
"You weren't the only one lied to," I acknowledged. "What do you reckon happened to your crew?"
"Seriously?" I sniggered. "And the crew on that sinking piece of shit?"
"Investigators will have my report and decide for themselves."
"Hey, do me a favor, would you."
"I left a bunch of charts rolled up on the bridge. I took them from the professor. See if you can make any sense of what they're all about. And also, if you find a satellite phone on him, Star-sixty-nine that motherfucker."
Captain Grant looked viciously skeptical.
"Oh, and hey," I said, pulling on my Chuck Taylors. "Thanks for not getting me killed."
Soon, I stood on the pier, staring out to sea. I had literally come full circle, and the clouds were just as dismal as ever. Osip came strolling over from another building. He smiled, shook my hand firmly, and then marched away without a word. In my palm, he had slipped a folded piece of paper. Instinctively, I stuffed my hand into my jacket pocket, assuming that there was a reason for Osip's secrecy.
Raising my eyes to the morbid sea, I wondered what I had to go back to in Berlin. Nothing worthwhile. It felt like I was still standing on the Holy Mountain Of Pigs. What the fuck was there to look forward to? "You should have died!" I heard her say. The Iranian woman. She was right. But the body has a will of its own. You fight against a sinking ship, just to face a life not worth shit, not without someone lighting the way back down the mountain this time. You don't want to be, but you don't just stop. And there, upon the edge of the sea, I finally recognized that which had been born in the belly of the ghost-ship. In hell, there my father roamed. Unlike Hamlet, however, I pitied him not. After all, old man Satan was calling me, as he always had, from below the water. We are only allies when our own agendas cross paths for the benefit of the greater arcana. And if we are all enemies, then we can never be betrayed.
Opening the small piece of paper, I found an address in Romania. Below was the word, AMAIMON.
© 2017 BRUCE STIRLING JOHN KNOX